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Monday, November 30, 2020

Hiking Report: Baldy Ski Hut Trail with Alex 2019/1/26

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I usually hike alone for the ease and simplicity of scheduling and the chance to be more intimate with nature. Still, I do occasionally enjoy hiking with others. For example, it’s always great hiking with the family either together or separately with my wife and each of the boys. Meet-ups with fellow hikers are nice. Sometimes a relative wants to try hiking. In this case, it was my friend Alex.

Click on image for a slide show…

When I introduce someone to hiking, I usually take them to one of my two favorite local destinations: Santa Anita Canyon or Mt. Baldy (officially, Mt. San Antonio). Both are within 1-hour driving distance of central Orange County. Which one to go? Alex mentioned, “Views” so it was Baldy. And between the two most popular trails at Baldy, the Ski Hut Trail offers “grander views” so we headed there.

The Ski Hut Trail, named after the green ski hut (officially, San Antonio Ski Hut), sits below the Baldy Bowl or halfway up the summit. When there is a lot of snow, people can ski down the bowl. On this day, there were many ice ax climbers participating in a class or climbing up the Baldy Gulch.

From the trailhead, it’s a moderate 3-mile hike to the hut. But you could still get “winded” or out of breath from the start because you’re starting from an elevation of about 6,000 ft. The hut itself lies 8,300 ft above sea level. Thus, it’s not exactly for beginners but if you’re reasonably fit, it is o.k.

As part of safely hiking, however, I am also ready to turn back for any reason, both physical or mental. And when I do take someone hiking, I let them know we can turn back anytime and keep a lookout for any signs of stress. Fortunately, Alex, who regularly goes to the gym, was very fit and motivated. He did very well. I can tell he really enjoyed being out there. He always had a smile on.

The Skit Hut Trail is not stingy with offering grand vistas and views. It begins early with the paved Falls Rd on the way to the San Antonio Falls, then onto the unpaved service Baldy Rd. It continues throughout the trail. The added benefit is that you aren’t always in direct sunlight as it is very wooded with tall pine trees from the start. You’re also hiking through a kind of gorge or drainage that pours into San Antonio falls where water flows pretty much all year round.

We made it to the Ski Hut, owned and operated by the Sierra Club, in a reasonable time. It is an excellent place to rest throughout the year. It offers picnic tables, seats, and rocks on which you can sit. There is even a portable bathroom. And for all the years I’ve been to Baldy, it was the first time I saw the Ski Hut open for business and stepped inside.

A sign said that non-members could use it for a fee and even stay overnight. That sounded like a great idea, especially for the winter – though sleeping on the snow is also exciting.

While the wind was not too bad when we were hiking up, the winds were gusty and were especially strong at the Ski Hut. So after previewing the interior of the building, we went to the other side of the building for protection and sat on an overlook for our rest.

In reality, some wind is no problem and rather calming. As the wind passes, the pines sing. As the wind bounces one side to the next through the gorges and canyons, it is like a chorus passing the notes around. Between the sonorous sound of wind gusting around us, we chatted, had some snacks, and got rehydrated.

Alex said it was his first real hike up this high. We also chatted about stuff only men can do at the start of their middle age who have wives and children also at similar stages in life. A couple of beautiful Blue Jays joined the conversation (they were actually scavenging for human snacks). Despite all the cars parked in the parking lot, the place was not crowded at all.

Though a couple of weeks back we had three back to back storms, there was hardly any snow on the way up; the temperatures did not go down enough. The excitement of snow hiking only began at Ski Hut. We felt good enough that we donned our “eisens” (German for mini-ice traction device popular in Korea) and gators to do some snow hiking.

Up to the Ski Hut, the trail is moderate. Beyond that, it becomes steeper. This day, it was made more difficult or perhaps more fun by hard packed icy snow that varied between a foot to two feet in depth. We passed by many people participating in ice ax classes. Some people were practicing on their own.

As we continued to hike up the steep mountain sometimes one step at a time as not to slip, we also passed many people coming back down. When queried, the most common answer was: “Go up about a third of the mile up [elevation 8,800 feet] more but turn back. Beyond that, it becomes steeper, and the wind is too strong to maintain steady footing without specialty equipment and clothes.” And so that’s what we decided to do. See the below video of the trees shaking at the point we turned back.

After we reached the top (8,800 feet), though, we rested. We went to a ledge which afforded a great view of our homes and beyond. Perhaps because of the windy day, the views especially clear and far. We could make out the San Pedro Peninsula, the Pacific Ocean, Fashion Island in Newport Beach, and so on. The views of the snowy mountain tops were breathtaking.

To conclude, it’s a joy to take someone new to hiking and find that they like it. It does not matter how fit they are, though Alex was very fit. What matters was that they enjoy and appreciate nature (and are not too chatty, which Alex wasn’t).

Alex seemed happy all the way, just as I myself often find happiness while hiking alone. We were impressed with the beauty and grandeur of the snowy Mt. Baldy. We heard Baldy sing to us using the pine trees, its gorges, and its canyons as its instruments. We met the challenges she threw at us with mature but humble sobriety. We enjoyed each other’s company. All the other hikers were nice and courteous.

For future reference, here’s a well-done blogging page by the Hiking Guy.

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